As the Republican Party vanishes into the party of Donald Trump, the situation cries out for an old-time establishment conservative or moderate who can rescue it and restore its longtime counter to Democratic liberalism and growing progressivism.
Trump himself tries to resurrect the old scare tactic of shouting “socialism,” which for decades the party has used to criticize government-paid Social Security benefits and other key elements of our social safety net, despite the fact that these have become accepted and admired by the American electorate.
In the process, he has reduced the party to an echo chamber of his own authoritarian aspirations in a democracy in duress. Where are the John McCains, the Howard Bakers — even the
Barry Goldwaters — of today, ready and willing to restore the old traditional and honorable Republican Party?
Amid all the genuflecting of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, there remains one old throwback now serving benignly in the Senate: Mitt Romney of Utah.
He is a transplant former governor of liberal Massachusetts and a twice-defeated GOP presidential candidate, currently holding his tongue as Trump undermines the old party’s ways and principles.
The closest Romney has come to criticizing the president was in a recent interview with an NBC Boston reporter, Alison King, who asked him what he thought of Trump’s attack on four Democratic female members of Congress, known as “the Squad,” who had criticized the president. Trump told them to “go back to where they came from,” although all four are U.S. citizens and three were born here.
Romney told King: “I certainly feel a number of these new members of Congress have views that are not consistent with my own experience and not consistent with building a strong America. At the same time, I recognize that the president has a proper role calling to unite all Americans regardless of creeds and race and even of place of their national origin, and I think in that case the president fell far short.” Asked to elaborate, he replied, “That’s all I got, thanks,” and walked off.
From this modest response, it may seem naive to suggest that Mitt Romney might yet be the Republican to lead his party out of its current political malaise, or at least indifference to lifting the current Trump yoke. Yet he has a family history of defending its moderate or even liberal factions.
In 1968, when his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, sought the GOP presidential nomination, his principal champion was New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. When that bid collapsed, Romney joined a brief Rockefeller bandwagon that also crumbled. Ironically, heading that nonstarter was then-Maryland Gov. Spiro T. Agnew, who wound up being Nixon’s vice president and ultimately resigned in disgrace in a bribe-taking scandal of his own.
Mitt Romney as governor in Massachusetts demonstrated a penchant for nonideological experimentation, and his innovative plan of governmental health care insurance was a model for Affordable Care Act, the Democrats’ landmark health insurance law that has endured to the present time, despite repeated Republican efforts to kill it.
One thing in Mitt Romney’s corner as potential savior of his party is his personal reputation as a man of high moral purpose and a leader in his Mormon church. Admittedly, he currently may be a weak card to play, but if the Republican banner of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is someday to regain its former respect, it needs some such leader worthy of public support beyond strict party lines.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.